Fading Suns has the distinction of being the only system of which I’m aware to retrofit a history-based character creation method on top of a point-buy method. In first edition, Fading Suns character creation was very similar to White Wolf: X points to raise characteristics 1-for-1, Y points to raise skills 1-for-1, and Z bonus points to raise everything else on a chart-based scale.
In second edition, this system was kept, but the preferred method is to make a character by following a life path. Instead of doing history-based creation like Mechwarrior, where characters that come out aren’t mechanically equal, the Fading Suns method essentially breaks the existing character creation method into pre-set packages. For example, in the first stage of creation, a High-Court Hawkwood compared to a Landless Decados would have the same number of points using the original method, they’re simply spent on different traits.
While this method does preserve bonus points and min-max opportunities at certain stages, it goes a long way towards preventing the hugely idiot-savant-esque characters that the system would otherwise incentivize. It also does a good job of helping a new player sort through the huge mass of options inherent in a skill-based system.
So, I actually can’t find fault with the character history creation method. I’m honestly curious why it didn’t go further, and why more games with robust settings and standard PC assumptions don’t do something similar.
A strange element of Fading Suns is its reliance on purchased combat maneuvers. Perhaps as a way to balance mundane characters against the cost of making powered characters (see below), the game features a wide variety of combat maneuvers for martial arts and swordfighting (and a few for guns). These maneuvers must be purchased independently from the associated combat skill (though each maneuver has a minimum skill prerequisite), and getting a wide range can become very expensive.
While the maneuvers are flavorful, they are often very specific as to their utility. And trying to buy a lot of maneuvers can functionally double or triple the cost of raising the combat skill (they’re not cheap). A player could probably get more benefit out of trying to get the GM to allow putting points into blessings and benefices to provide skill bonuses and better equipment.
Ultimately, the combat maneuvers are a cool idea, but are both over-priced and under-utilized. They seem like something to which a price tag was added to try to balance mundane fighters against the incredible expense of building a psychic or a theurge, but mundane combat has easier tradeoffs for potentially less cost. Using similar focuses for lots of other skills could have resulted in a fun and innovative system, but, instead, charging for maneuvers that would traditionally just be standard options for a skill feels grafted on and out of place with the rest of the system.
Powers (Psi and Theurgy)
Even compared to the cost of building a mundane fighter with all the combat maneuvers, creating a character with powers is prohibitively expensive.
As mentioned in the last entry, psychics and theurges require a whole characteristic (Ego or Faith) that no mundane character really worries about. This becomes the prerequisite for their powers. Unlike other characters, they need to buy up their Wyrd trait, because it’s required to use powers. But the real kicker is that every power requires a different characteristic + skill combo.
Let’s look at just one path: Soma (one of the better combat paths). The traits involved in each level are:
- Introvert + Vigor
- Passion + Vigor
- Calm + Vigor
- Introvert + Stoic Body
- Extrovert + Vigor
- Extrovert + Charm
- Introvert + Remedy
- Calm + Focus
- Introvert + Vigor
To use a single path, a character needs to have good values in four characteristics (which are two sets of opposed characteristics, so having a high value in all of them is impossible) and six skills, in addition to the cost of raising Psi as a prerequisite and buying the powers. Conversely, a character can master the fencing arts with a high Dexterity, decent Strength and Endurance, and paying triple-cost for Melee (the skill plus associated manuevers). A level 9 Soma specialist easily paid twice as much exp as a level 9 Fencing specialist. And the Soma character is probably also trying to round out additional psychic paths, while the fencer has effectively peaked as a playable character.
The powers in Fading Suns are neat. But they come with an in-setting limitation (the inquisition) and an in-system limitation (Hubris or Urge, which are big negatives on powered characters). They’re neat, but even at high levels they’re only rarely overpoweringly good. The decision to make these powers both individually expensive and multiple-attribute-dependent is somewhat baffling.